Could the real reason they didn't come was that the debate moderator, liberal PBS host Tavis Smiley, has a long history of making offensive remarks about Republicans?
Attending the debate in person, I decided to ask that question to Smiley, specifically about his remark that he considered then-Texas-governor George W. Bush to be a "serial killer" for his enforcement of that state's capital punishment laws. His answer was both misleading and evasive.
"I have never called President Bush a serial killer," Smiley asserted. "I don't know what you're talking about." (View partial video here as captured by blogger Ian Schwartz or see Classical Values' Eric Scheie's account)
When confronted with an exact citation, October 24, 2000 on CNBC's "Rivera Live," Smiley became far less definitive. "I don't ever remember saying that," he said. Smiley left immediately thereafter.
On the same program, Smiley also said he "cannot abide the thought of having three more Clarence Thomases on the Supreme Court." That prospect, in his view was enough to vote for Bush's Democratic opponent Al Gore. "I'm voting Supreme Court," Smiley stated.
Is it any wonder Republicans were reluctant to come onto Smiley's platform? The guy is about as biased as it gets.
Update 15:17. Ace wonders if biased journalism of Smiley's variety is the future of media.
Update 16:00. Previously on NB: Smiley's greatest liberal hits.
Update 18:09. Paul Mirengoff adds: "A better reason for showing up would simply be to show respect for the African-American community. Considering the size and importance of that community, not to mention its historical mistreatment in this country, the respect factor would normally represent a sufficient reason to appear. But respect can't be a street with only one way traffic. And unfortunately, the moderator of this event, Tavis Smiley, has failed to show Republicans and conservatives the minimum respect needed to justify a wasted night in Baltimore."
Full transcript from the October 24, 2000 edition of "Geraldo Rivera Live:"
GERALDO RIVERA: But Arianna suggests that neither of these candidates is making the minority vote or minority issues, whether it's housing, you know, this ridiculous failed war on drugs, any--any issue you want to think of impacting poor folks, many of them black and brown, n--neither candidate's making that a big priority. Do you agree?
TAVIS SMILEY (Host, "BET Tonight"): I think she's right about that to a certain extent. There are--there are some issues on which, if you are a--a voter of color, certainly if you're an African-American, you have a hard time choosing. For example, both of these guys support the death penalty. As far as I'm concerned, Bush in Texas is nothing more than a serial killer.
RIVERA: Whoo! Whoo!
SMILEY: But we can't expect that much more out of--out of Gore because this guy supports the death penalty as well, and indeed, the Democrats, when they came here to LA, increased the penalties for which the death penalty can apply in their platform. So if you--if you believe in the--that the death penalty is disproportionately applied to African-Americans, how do you support...
RIVERA: I do.
SMILEY: ...I do--I do, too--how do you support either one of these guys? On the other hand, there are some clear distinctions, and for me...
RIVERA: Like? Like?
SMILEY: For example, the issue that I've been talking most about on radio and television--I cannot abide the thought of having three more Clarence Thomases on the Supreme Court. If Bush gets elected, by his own words, his two favorites on the bench now are Scalia and Thomas. If this guy gets a chance, he's going to put three more Clarence Thomases on the bench, and for all this diversity on display that we saw at the convention in Philadelphia, people are talking the talk, but nobody's walking the walk.
And this surplus that we keep talking about spending, who's talking specifically about how this surplus is going to be spent to help those who are economically, politically and socially disenfranchised? And so, you know, you can look at these guys, as Arianna says, and not see much difference between the two of them.
But for me--and I'm not--I'm not typically a one-issue voter--I'm voting Supreme Court. We screw up, we pick the wrong guy to run the White House, we can ostensibly straighten that mess out in four years. You pick the wrong guy to run the White House and he stacks the bench for the next 30, 40, 50 years, you can't straighten that out.